I was delighted that the autumn Chilterns Walking Festival could go ahead. Guided walks are exempt from the rule of 6, provided safety measures in place. The walk I had originally planned for the May festival includes sites associated with John Hampden, the 17th century landowner and MP whose stand against arbitrary actions of the government of the day led to King Charles I losing his head.
Armed with hand-sanitiser and wearing safety masks, 15 participants joined us for a walk from my home village to neighbouring Great Hampden. Shortly after setting off, we paused to admire the knitted banner circling a tree in the centre of the village, created by a local crafter from the knitted rainbows and scarves that appeared around Prestwood during lockdown.
Passing Sheepwash Pond, an old watering place for animals that has been restored by local conservation group Prestwood Nature to provide a year-round aquatic habitat for newts, frogs, invertebrates and birds, we made our way via the Woodland Trust’s Pepperboxes Wood to the Hampden Monument. The monument was erected by Lord Nugent in the 19th century to commemorate Hampden’s refusal to pay ‘ship money’. This was a tax which the Crown had levied on coastal times during time of war. Charles I’s attempt to demand payment during peacetime from inland taxpayers, without the consent of parliament was one of the points of tension between Crown and Parliament that eventually led to the outbreak of the English Civil War. The inscription reads, ‘For these lands in Stoke Mandeville, John Hampden was assessed in twenty shillings Ship Money levied by command of the King without authority of law’.
We walked across fields with fine views over the valley to Little Hampden until we reached Hampden House. Originally built in the 14th century, it has been much altered over time. In the 18th century a fashionable gothic façade was added. John Hampden would not have recognised it, but in the 1970s Hammer films found it an ideal place to film the ‘Hammer House of Horror’ TV series.
Opposite the house is the medieval church of St Mary Magdalene. The chancel, rebuilt in the fifteenth century, contains many Hampden family monuments, but the location of John Hampden’s grave is uncertain. It’s said that as his body was brought back to Great Hampden a wake was held for him at the Plough, Cadsden -a pub more recently known as the place where Prime Minister David Cameron took the Chinese President for fish and chips.
Our route back to Prestwood took us past a thatched cottage with interesting rooftop scene of a fox stalking a pheasant, whilst an owl looks on.
Back in Prestwood, we passed through the Greenlands lane site where Prestwood Nature runs two more conservation projects: a pollinator-friendly wildlife garden and a community orchard preserving some of the historic fruit varieties that used to be a mainstay of the local economy.
I think everyone enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to share our wonderful Chilterns countryside, even if the sun didn’t shine.